Most smokers remember their first cigarette usually when you were a teenager. Probably curious and a bit rebellious. Smoking may have appeal to you as it was something grown-ups did and seemed very mature and cool.
You probably gagged from that first cigarette, but it didn’t stop you from smoking. Cigarettes were not going to get the better of you. Your friends and the rest of the world had to know that you were cool or tough, so you stuck at it until you could smoke without any problems like choking or coughing. After persevering you finally learned to enjoy it, and that cigarette became a symbol of you and your independence. Smoking and you merged into one, It became a part of your identity.
Somewhere in those early days during the first few cigarettes in the first few packs you had, something changed, and it hasn’t stopped changing ever since. You smoke today not because it’s cool, but because it takes away the discomfort. So why do you feel uncomfortable when you smoke?
As you read further you’re going to learn exactly what changed how and why, it will have a profound effect on the way you look at smoking from now on.
The reward system – Motivation
Your brain consists of over 1 billion cells called neurons. We use these neurons to communicate by exchanging chemical messages known as neurotransmitters, a bit like fiber optics use light to communicate computer to computer. Every neurotransmitter has a receiving site on the opposite side neuron called a receptor.
These neurotransmitters are an exact fit into its receptor in like a child’s toy with different shaped holes, so the receiving neurons gets the communication when it is interacted with by a specific neurotransmitter, i.e. The shape that fits the hole.
The neurotransmitter in question is Acetylcholine, it’s responsible for the release of dopamine, known as the “feel good” hormone and it’s this specific hormone that drives your brains motivation – reward function. Otherwise known as the pleasure center. This is a subconscious guide for survival. Behaviors essential for survival are encouraged by a rewarding system handing out dopamine and importantly it generates a memory of each event to promote repetition so you will continue to exhibit the behaviour.
This links in nicely for the Nicotine Molecule
The nicotine molecule and Acetylcholine are extremely similar to each other, to such a degree that nicotine is able to fit into the Acetylcholine receptors, and releasing in turn releasing dopamine. Nicotine hijacks the brains but the part that decides what we need for our survival, thus the want of a cigarette or in other words nicotine can be as strong as our need for our basic survival needs of food and water.
When you came to the end of that first ever cigarette, most of your Acetylcholine receptors would have been taken up by nicotine molecules. And to complicate things even more, you begun a process that lead to you being addicted to nicotine/cigarettes.
The Addiction Cycle
Inhale smoke from the cigarette and nicotine will quickly enter your bloodstream. It reaches your brain in only seven seconds, this is the fastest method to get your dosage. Enough nicotine is released from a single cigarette to trigger dopamine release giving you the sensation of comfort.
This sensation is short lived however, as the nicotine is rapidly metabolised by your body. With the dropping of nicotine levels so does dopamine drop in its levels, thus creating a feeling of discomfort all caused by nicotine withdrawal.
Acetylcholine levels in your brain have now increased, so your brain
Compensates by increasing the number of receptors but reducing their sensitivity. This process is called open regulation and results in higher levels of drug tolerance, so now you need bigger Doses of nicotine just to produce the same sensation. You begin to smoke more and more creating more up regulation, and a vicious cycle of addiction is born.
You continue to smoke and your brain produces less acetylcholine, making you more dependent on cigarettes and its nicotine to release dopamine. Powerless to keep up with the growing number of receptors, you feel constantly feel successions of lower lows and lower highs.
Every cigarette you smoke is an attempt to feel as good as you felt before smoking the first ever cigarette however this is never going to happen.
Finally all these changes in your brain chemistry start affecting your cognitive functions. Rational thinking is compromised you started to experience denial. The search for nicotine becomes compulsive, your next hit taking priority over values and health.
Understanding and knowledge are powerful allies
Uncomfortable feelings when you’re not smoking is because you’re experiencing nicotine withdrawal. If you continue to believe that smoking gives you positive and uplifting feelings of comfort not smoking will have the opposing effect of you feeling deprived of that comfort you will feel the need to smoke.
When you understand that smoking does nothing to halt withdrawal, there is no point in deprivation and recovery is there within grasp therefore understanding and knowledge are powerful allies.
The body expels nicotine within three days from the moment you stop smoking. The up-regulation process is then reversed. Receptors are restored to normal levels and nicotine is eliminated. This is known as down-regulation and the process takes about 21 days. So the actual chemical addiction to nicotine is stopped in roughly 3-4 weeks.
The Psychological side of addiction is then encountered. Every single time you satisfied your craving for a cigarette, a memory of the event was created by your brain. For every memory holds a reinforced connection of dopamine between smoking and whatever you were feeling or doing at that moment. These now act as powerful connections to trigger smoking, now you have to dismantle these triggers by breaking the connections. This can be done every time you experience familiar situations where you would normally light up and when you don’t a new connection is generated thus breaking old connections connected with smoking.
While you continue to break up the old out of date connections, the addicts way of thinking will breakup and new thinking will emerge in its place. This will bring you into a new sphere of thinking that not only breaks the habit but allows you to never go back to the old ways again and realise the whole time you have been in trance while smoking, smoking cigarettes created an illusion but you can now break it to a thousand pieces forever.